Failure is Not Trying

“Failure is only the opportunity to begin again more intelligently.”

– Henry Ford

What do you think about failure? Do you encourage your child to make mistakes? Do you celebrate attempts to try new things? Do you share your own failed attempts freely with your child?

failure is only the opportunity to begin again more intelligently

Last night was Back to School Night at my new kindergartener’s school. The principal gave a motivating talk about the importance of extending the school’s core values into our children’s home lives as a way to reinforce the home-school connection.

At the end of the presentation the principal talked about failure, and how we should encourage our children to work hard to achieve their ideas and goals in spite of their lack of knowledge. If they don’t know how to do something, they shouldn’t see this as a limitation but as an opportunity to fail forward as they learn through the process of trying.

As you can imagine, I LOVED this talk and felt so grateful that my daughter landed in an environment with such entrepreneurial spirit at its heart.

At the end of the talk, they shared a link to an interview with the youngest female self-made billionaire, Sarah Blakely (founder of Spanx), who discussed her journey with ABC News. Whatever you might think of Spanx (I don’t own any myself), you’ll appreciate how her father redefined the word failure for her and her brother. 

“We would sit around the dining room table at night and he would say, ‘OK, kids, what did you fail at today?’ I would say, ‘Dad, I tried out for this sport and I was horrible,’ and he would say ‘way to go,’ and high five me. And it completely reset my definition of failure. So, for my brother and me, failure is not trying.”

Sadly, I can’t embed the video here, but you can watch it here. And if you find her story motivating, here’s a link to Sarah Blakely on YouTube. 

Parents and Teachers as Co-Learners

It’s so important to model our own failures to our children. If children don’t see us struggle as we try new things, and in turn find ways to overcome setbacks, how can we ever expect them to do the same?

When was the last time you celebrated a failure with a child? Not too long ago I baked a new recipe with my kids. We thought we could alter the recipe to use up some of our pantry ingredients and talked about experimentation as we went along. In end the recipe was a disaster, but it was a fantastic opportunity to discuss how we could do it differently next time. Some of the things that came up: follow the recipe more closely, take more time with fewer distractions, and don’t use so much pumpkin.

If you’re interested in this topic, you might enjoy this post on failure.

A question for you:

When was the last time you tried something new? Did you succeed on your first attempt? If not, what did you have to do in order to achieve your goal?

How to Make Paper Airplanes That Go Far

Have you ever made a paper airplane?

Did you learn how to make it from a book? Or maybe it was from the kid you shared a desk with in the third grade?

We tested a few designs, and one of them really stood out as a winner (I’ll share it below). You’ll have to test some, too, and see which one flies the furthest.

This will be fun for the summer! How to Make Paper Airplanes that go Far!

How to Make Paper Airplanes that go Far

Well guess what? Today I’m sharing links to instructions for making paper airplanes that go far and actually work, along with some ideas on how to help kids invent their own paper airplane designs.

So let’s get started with How to Make Paper Airplanes while building Design Skills…

paper airplane table set up

Paper Airplane Supplies

  • A few sets of instructions for making paper airplanes. You can get these from a book or download instructions from the internet (see recommended links below)
  • Copy paper. Thinner paper is easier for children to fold.
  • Markers (optional)
  • Scissors (optional)
  • A clear table

The Best Paper Airplane Designs

  • Our favorite was The Eagle
  • We also tried High Glider
  • Try a few and have a fly-off to compare them.

paper airplane instructions

Step One: Select a Design

We looked through all of our designs, picked one to start with, and my daughter and I sat down and followed the directions for the first airplane. If you’ve ever made origami, it’s the same approach. Most of the steps were easy enough for her four-year old hands and mind, but I had to help her with a few of the trickier folds.

If you find instructions that are too complicated for you, then skip them and find another plane to make.

Step Two: Teach someone else how to make a plane

Once we got the hang of it, N thought our six-year old neighbor would enjoy this project and we invited him over to join us. Either that or misery loves company.

We each started with another sheet of paper and while we folded, the kids educated each other on hamburger and hot dog folds. If you don’t have a neighbor to teach, teach a parent, babysitter, or grandparent. This step does wonders for building confidence.

paper airplane collection

Step Three: Iterate and Invent New Planes

Once that first airplane was complete, it was interesting to see where the kids took the project next. My daughter, a designer to the core, got busy decorating her plane with markers. Her friend, a tinkerer at heart who has a soft spot for Legos, began iterating on the design to improve it!

As we folded, he asked me questions like, “On your Eagle, how did you make the wing tips?” And then he proceeded to invent his own series of planes with pointed noses, flat noses, and wing tips.

When my daughter jumped in to help him, I commented that they were iterating. I actually said, “Hey you guys are iterating! Do you know that word? It means that you’re building a lot of planes to test new ideas and in order to figure out how to make it better. Can you say ‘iterate?'” And then of course, they obliged me.

I swear, the teacher thing will probably never leave my soul! Do you ever find yourself in that mode?

How to make a paper airplane | Tinkerlab

Step Four: Take it outdoors

They tested their planes in the house and once they amassed a small fleet of planes, I heard, “Let’s have an airplane show!!” So we took it outdoors to see what the planes could do.

Our friend guessed that the pointy-nosed planes would get more distance and said he was “amazed that the flat-nosed Eagle flew the best.”


All in all, we spent a good hour on this project, and in the end not only did these kids have fun bonding and playing together, but they came away with some new design skills, tools for developing an innovator’s mindset, and good ol’ fine motor skill practice. 

How to make paper airplanes that go far square

A question for you…

Did you ever make paper airplanes as a child? Where did you learn how to make them? And how did they fly?

Make a Simple Room Fort

Hello Tinker-firends! I’ve been busy with some family business and book edits that are taking a toll on my late-night blogging time. How are you doing?

Until I get a better handle on these details I thought I’d share some quick snippets of tinkering inspiration from our days at home and out-and-about.

Today we have a down-and-dirty favorite from my husband, our resident fort builder. Scroll down to the bottom for links to hundreds of inspiring DIY kids fort ideas.

How to Build a Simple Room Fort for Kids

How to build a simple kids fort with tape and a sheet

What you need

  • Paper Tape
  • A large sheet
  • A doorway or arch to hang the sheet in

That’s it!

How to build a simple room fort with tape and a sheet

It’s not your traditional fort, but my kids loved playing with this new-to-them hanging element. It closed off a room that’s normally open to the whole house, giving the room a feeling of theater.

And speaking of theater, you could also do something like this to create impromptu theater curtains.

More fort ideas

How to Build a Simple Clip Fort

Make a Fort from a Refrigerator Box

Fort Magic, The Coolest Fort in Town

A Playhouse under the Table, Artful Parent

Handmade Hideaways, Modern Parents Messy Kids

How to Build a Great Blanket Fort, Simple Mom

And perhaps the biggest resource of all, Fort Fridays, the weekly fort roundup from All for the Boys

Vegetable-Dyed Easter Eggs

Have you ever thought about making vegetable dyed Easter eggs?

How to dye Easter eggs with natural dyes like red cabbage, onion skins, and beets.

I’m trying to make a move away from synthetic food dyes and wanted to use natural, homemade dyes this year. Not only are these colors absolutely healthy for human consumption, but the process of making them is a wonderful lesson in creating art materials from scratch and can help children think critically about  how to achieve various colors colors.

As I was cutting the onions and beets I asked my daughter what colors she thought they’d make. I also asked questions like, “If I wanted to make blue dye, what might I make it with?”

She had fun making guesses based on what we had in our kitchen and garden, and also came up with her own wild suggestions such as, “let’s take the skins off the bananas to make yellow dye!”

How to Make Vegetable Dyed Easter Eggs

How to dye Easter eggs with natural dyes like red cabbage, onion skins, and beets.


  • Hard boiled eggs
  • Skin from one onion, two beets, large handful of spinach, half head of red cabbage
  • Vinegar
  • Water
  • Bowls
  • Ice cream scooper
  • Rubber Bands
  • Stickers
  • Crayons
  • Parsley Sprigs
  • Cheesecloth

Make the dye

I set up four pots of dye:

Pot #1: Onion Skins

Pot #2: Beets

Pot #3: Spinach

Pot #4: Chopped Red Cabbage

Add about 3 cups of water and 2 tablespoons of vinegar to each pot. The vinegar helps the dye set onto the egg.

Cook the dyes for about 30 minutes and then strained the colored water into some bowls.

*Note, you could also experiment with hard-boiling your raw eggs in the dye itself. I’ve heard this works really well. 

Three Decorating Techniques

While the dye cooks and cools, this could be a good time to get your eggs ready for dipping.

How to dye Easter eggs with natural dyes like red cabbage, onion skins, and beets, and ideas on how to decorate them..

1. Wrap the Eggs with Rubberbands

We wrapped some eggs with rubber bands. Fine motor skill training for my almost 3-year old!

2. Cover Eggs with Stickers

We covered eggs with spring stickers and office stickers.

3. Color the Eggs with Crayons

And we drew on eggs with crayons. Nothing too crazy. The crayon will resist the dye. White crayon would make for more drama in the end, but my 2-year old had her heart set on blue.

How to Dye Easter Eggs

Some people like to use tongs or whisks to grab their eggs, but our ice cream scooper made for a good egg scooper.

Do you see that barely green water up there? That’s what transpired from cooking our spinach…for thirty minutes! Pale green water. As you can imagine, it didn’t do much to our eggs. Next time I think we’ll try using more spinach…or use green food coloring.

Have you had any success achieving a vibrant green color with natural dyes? I’ve heard that liquid chlorophyll is the best thing to use for green, but I haven’t tried it personally.

Pale Yellow from Onions

We unwrapped the eggs to reveal the hidden images!  This pale yellow color was made by the onion skins. We’ve also made yellow dye from ground turmeric (cooked the same as above), which it works really well.

Grey from Beets

It looks brown here, but the beets made a grey-ish color. Dye seeped into the openings of the bunny sticker, revealing a blotchy silhouette that’s still quite nice. A bunch of these all over an egg would be kind of cool, or a simpler sticker would look nice (scroll down for an example).

I’ve had success making a pale pink from beets, and I’m not quite sure what happened here.

Blue from Red Cabbage

But small stickers like this little butterfly left a clear impression. Lovely.

Brilliant blue came from the red cabbage! To make this egg, we wrapped cheesecloth around parsley sprigs and then dipped it in the cabbage dye. If you have pantyhose, that could work even better.

Hole Reinforcement Stickers on Easter Eggs

I found a new life for a stack of hole-punch reinforcement stickers! Don’t you love this? The grey color came from the beets (sad, because I was hoping for pink, but still beautiful), the egg in the back is a brown egg dipped in red cabbage dye, and the yellow egg is colored by onion skin.

Before tossing the cabbage leaves out, I wrapped them around an egg and popped it in the fridge overnight. Tie-dye egg!

For more ideas on how to make natural dyes, you’ll want to read this updated post: How to Make Natural Dye for Painting and Eggs.

More Egg Dying, Decorating, and Science Ideas

Three Easy Tricks for Blown Out Eggs

Egg Geodes Science Experiment

How to Make a Floating Egg

How to Walk on Raw Eggs. Really.

60 Egg Activities for Kids

Have you colored eggs with natural dye?

If you have, please share a tip, link, or photo!!

Homemade {Easy, Low-cost} Light Table

You’ll be amazed at how easy it is to make an inexpensive DIY light table.

DIY light table that's easy and affordable

Light tables like this are great for preschoolers, as they inspire them with sorting and designing compositions. Light Tables are wonderful for exploring the play of light, shadow, color, and transparency. Their unique nature can add a magical element to child’s play and encourage curiosity, exploration, and problem-solving.

If you’ve been following my blog, you may remember the overhead projector that we salvaged for just $5 from Stanford’s Re-Use Department or the DIY Light Table that we filled with salt and water beads.

Build a Light Table

I wanted to include a light box tutorial in my forthcoming book and recognized that our light box wouldn’t be easy for other parents or caregivers to replicate, so I started tinkering. Once I wrapped my head around this project, it couldn’t have been simpler.

Like painfully simple! Wait ’til you see.

If you don’t already have one of these, you’ll wonder why not.

make your own light table

DIY Light Box Materials

  • Under-the-bed style clear storage box. This Rubbermaid Storage Box (affiliate) is fantastic and this one with a snap top lid also looks great. I’ve also spotted really nice boxes at IKEA, which may be worth hunting down.
  • White Tissue Paper (the kind you wrap gifts with), wax paper, or tracing paper. My preference is white tissue paper. Stay clear of parchment paper as it’s impossible to tape it to anything.
  • Clear Tape
  • String of holiday lights
  • Extension cord: optional


  1. Tissue Paper: Line the inside of the lid with tissue paper and tape it in place. Use clear tape so that the tape doesn’t show. 
  2. Holiday Lights: Spread a string of holiday lights around the inside of your box. The cord will dangle out. We were able to close our box on the cord, but this isn’t necessary.
  3. Play! Place a few bowls of transparent manipulative materials near the light box and invite your child to create.
  4. Seed the project: My kids are most responsive to this invitation if I seed the table with a few ideas. I set all of the materials out as you see in the photo above. My 2-year old saw this and added a red circle in the middle of one of the “flowers.” Then she decided to build a whole series of flowers with my assistance (below).

Homemade Light Box

Materials for the Light Table

affiliate links

Inspiring objects for light table

More cool design materials that you might enjoy

Store-bought Light Box Options

If making your own light box doesn’t appeal to you, there’s an enormous selection of store-bought options to choose from. We also have a sweet little 5″ x 7″ Gagne Light Panel that I found at a local art store. Dbmier makes a similar tracing pad that’s recommended for stenciling, 2D Animation, Calligraphy, Embossing, Scrapbooking, Sketching & Drawing, and Sewing projects,.

This small box doesn’t have the big-impact, scale-wise, as our homemade box, but it’s portable and I love it for tracing projects (mama makes art too!).

plug in light table

More Light Box Inspiration

I couldn’t have written this post without mentioning that as I was working on this project, my friend Anna at The Imagination Tree posted her own DIY Light Box for Sensory Play. Our projects are nearly identical, and this isn’t the first time this has happened! Click on the links to see how Anna made her sensory light box.

Two years ago we both posted the same project, on the same day. Here’s a peak: If you have a toddler, you might also enjoy my Colander Sculpture and Anna’s Discovery Box Pipe Cleaners. The Imagination Tree is one of my favorite blogs. If you’re a hands-on parent I’m sure you’ll love it too, so do check it out if it’s not already on your radar.

Easy Low Cost Homemade Light Table

Dead simple. How to make your own (easy) light table for curious and creative kids.

Easy String Art Experiments for Kids

“The painting has a life of its own. I try to let it come through.”

— Jackson Pollack, American Painter

String Art

Creating string art is a fun mix of art, creative thinking, and experimentation all rolled into one open-ended package.

If you’ve been following this blog for a while you’ll know that when it comes to children’s projects, my focus lies on the experience of creating more than the product.

String Art

My 4-year old, who has been calling herself Leia for the past month (as in Princess Leia — and yes, she’s been wearing the Leia costume she got for Christmas for the past 24 hours!), adds string to everything she makes. And my 2-year old, who we like to call Rainbow on this blog (here’s the story of how that began), said that she wanted to paint. So this experience was the perfect marriage of their interests on this rainy morning.

To get started, you only need a few simple materials.


  • Washable tempera paint, poured into small bowls
  • Short pieces of string
  • Copy paper and/or cardstock
  • Spoons to help cover the string in paint
  • Table covering (optional)
  • Baby wipes or a damp towel to clean hands

Easy String Art Painting Experiment with Kids

Creative Invitation

Without giving my children too much direction, I like to set up our projects up as invitations to create. I might make a suggestion or give a brief prompt, but I trust that the materials speak volumes to children. The less that I interject, the more opportunity they’ll have to find their own voice and make independent decisions.

With this project, Leia and Rainbow spent some time dancing their painted strings across the paper. After this ran its course I folded a sheet of paper in half and offered a suggestion that they could try pulling the string through the shut paper.

More experiments

This resulted in a symmetrical mirror image painting, which inspired Leia to try pulling more than one string through the paper at once. She then tested the process of holding one paint-soaked string in each hand, and pulling them through at the same time. I obviously needed to step in an assist her on this one.

Easy String Art Painting Experiment with Kids

They struggled with gaining control over the string and occasionally complained about getting paint on their hands, but the complexity of working with this tricky combination of paint and string challenged them to work with familiar materials in a new way.

Experiment Ideas

String Art Painting

Would you try this combination in your home? Have you tried it already?

What other materials could you combine with paint to make it more interesting and less common?

Marbled Paper Suminagashi

Are you looking for a last-minute hands-on gift, or maybe an idea to bookmark for a cold winter day? I’ve been saving this Suminagashi kit for a quiet morning and it was a true winner with both my 2-year old and 4-year old.

The process of marbleizing paper encourages creative thinking, open-ended exploration with ink and water, and experimentation.

Marbled Paper with Suminagashi

But first, maybe you’ve noticed that it’s been a little quiet around here. I’m sorry that I’ve kind of dropped the ball on my blog this month. I’ve been hunkering down with my other writing project and something had to go sit on the back burner. (sorry, bloggy).

Maybe you didn’t notice, in which case — yay! You’ve probably been busy too. It’s the holiday season after all. What are your plans for the holidays? Have you been baking? Are you going anywhere tropical or fun?

My kids finished making and packing their gifts for friends, my shopping is all but done, and now only the dreaded box of holiday cards is staring at me from across the room, waiting for messages of holiday cheer and stamps (that have yet to be purchased — eek).

But that can wait just a few more minutes because I have to share this important, colorful, festive, and fun art meets science experience with you…

Marbled Paper

I ordered our Suminagashi kit from Amazon for about $16 and you can find it here: Marbling Kit, Japanese Suminagashi. I just checked and if you order today it’ll arrive before Christmas. You know, just in case.

The beautiful word, suminagashi, translates from Japanese to mean “spilled ink.” I love saying suminagashi, and hearing my kids try to say it is a-dorable. Suminagashi is traditionally done with Sumi Ink, which is oily. Since oil floats on top of water, guess what? So does the Sumi ink! The ink that comes in this kit is non-toxic and “made by high-grade cosmetic pigment with P.V.A via a special process.” Loosely translated from Japanese, I assume.

The kit is recommended for ages 6 and up, probably more for dexterity reasons than anything. Both of my children handled the dyes quite capably — my younger daughter with a little help — so I wouldn’t let the age thing stop you if that’s a concern.

Marbled Paper with Suminagashi

The process is fun and simple: Squeeze a little bit of color into a tray of water, swirl it around, drop a piece of paper on top, and you have a print.

Marbled Paper with Suminagashi

Marbled Paper with Suminagashi This is one of those projects that’s tough to stop at just one. Because each print is unique, it’s compelling to try multiple variations on the theme. This kept us active for a good hour, and when they were dry my 4-year old turned these into holiday cards for her fantastic teachers.

More Suminagashi around the web

If you’re interested in another version of this experience, we did some marbling experiments  a couple years ago with spectacular results: Marbleized Paper with oil and liquid watercolors.

Inner Child Fun shows how to make gorgeous concentric circles — I wish we had tried this ourselves. Next time!

The History of Suminagashi

Oder this book, How to Marbleize Paper if you’re interested in learning how to make 12 traditional marbleized patterns

**Note: I am an Amazon affiliate, but I only share links to products that I adore and/or think you’ll find useful**

3 Tools that Build a Child’s Confidence

Young children are full of their own ideas, confidence, and enthusiasm for the new. As much as we hope they’ll retain this strong sense of self, as they get older it’s possible that their confidence can diminish with the influence of peers or self-doubt that comes from not being able to bounce back from failure.

I hope that my kids can retain a strong sense of self as they grow older. Given that my kiddos are girls I’m acutely aware of how easily they can lose themselves in the face of strong personalities. The rise of books such as Raising Confident Girls: 100 Tips For Parents And Teachers, The A to Z Guide to Raising Happy, Confident Kids, and how girls THRIVE demonstrate just how critical this issue is for children, and perhaps girls morso than boys.

I wrote a post about Six Tools for Building a Child’s Confidence and share three more with you today not as doctrine but as inspiration. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this — what tools do you think are important for building a child’s confidence?

Tool #1: Trust.

Children put an enormous amount of stock into what their parents or teachers think, and it’s our role to show them that we believe in them.

My 4-year old loves, loves, loves my sewing machine. I don’t let her use it unsupervised, but when she does use the machine all I do is help her guide the fabric. She presses the pedal, lifts the foot, and cuts the thread. The same can be said for the hot glue gun, electric mixer and cooking at the stove. We don’t do these things all the time, but I try to find ways to build these moments of trust into our days together.

Tool #2: Iteration

For a child to truly understand how things work, he or she needs to test it out multiple times and in various ways. Think of the child who just learned to write his name and how he’ll write it in various sizes, on different kinds of paper, vertically and horizontally, all in an effort to understand the written word and his particular place in the world.

In this image taken of my daughter last year, she was painting with watercolors. She paints with watercolors frequently and had experimented with brush painting, dipping paper in the paint, and squeezing paint with droppers. On this day, she wanted to see test the results of blowing paint with two different straws. One worked far better than the other, and she only figured this out because we dedicated time to iteration.

Tool #3: Tinker

Pulling things apart to undertand how they work helps children grasp the bigger picture of the world around them. We had an old monitor that was scheduled for a trip to the dump, and decided to pull it apart (carefully) so that my daughter could get a close look at some circuit boards and wires that live behind the computer. Another, safer, way to go about this is to give children some small tools and an old clock, and a fair amount of time to take it all apart.

For more on this topic, check out Six Tools for Building a Child’s Confidence

What tools do you think are important for building a child’s sense of confidence?